Answers won't find themselves

It is time for a national conversation about how to address gun violence

May we have the conversation now?

Twenty-seven people are dead, 20 of them young children. The young man who killed 26 of them before taking his own life did so with a rifle primarily suitable for shooting human beings, equipped with a high-capacity magazine designed to permit 30 rounds to be fired before reloading.

The rifle was purchased legally and registered by the killer's mother in Connecticut, which has what is considered one of the stronger state laws in the country restricting so-called "assault weapons." The rifle in question is not even considered an assault weapon under Connecticut law, and yet it was used to assault human beings — as any gun could have been.

That emphasizes the difficulty of seeking ways to make mass shootings less likely. It does not mean we should not try.

Whenever a mass killing takes place, defenders of "gun rights" immediately demand that no one "politicize" the tragedy by suggesting stricter gun control laws as a potential response.

It is worth remembering that, until the late 1970s, heavy restrictions on guns were widely accepted in this country, even by the National Rifle Association. It was that organization more than any other that "politicized" the gun control debate and pushed the courts to redefine the Second Amendment.

Now, the Supreme Court has ruled that the Second Amendment's "right of the people to keep and bear arms" is an individual, not a collective right. The amendment's "well-regulated militia" clause apparently refers to every single citizen who has not been convicted of a felony.

Fine. Let's regulate them, each and every one.

But let's be clear about one thing: We are not talking about taking away people's guns. Neither is President Obama, despite the hysterical ravings of those who claim otherwise.

We aren't proposing specific restrictions. We are saying it is long past time to have a national discussion about mass shootings such as the one that took place last week, and what might be done to make them less likely to occur in the future.

It is time to discuss whether rifles designed to fire many rounds very rapidly at other human beings should be as widely available as they are now.

It is past time to require a background check on everyone who wants to buy a gun — even from private individuals at gun shows.

It is past time to discuss improving our system of mental health treatment, so that individuals predisposed to commit acts of mass violence might be identified and helped before they act.

It is past time to discuss the prevalence of extreme violence in video games and movies, and whether the experience of killing electronic images of people over and over again desensitizes young psyches to the real thing.

Some, including State Rep. Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point, have suggested arming and training teachers and principals to stop future school shooters and save lives. We do not accept the notion that the answer to gun violence is more guns, but that position is and ought to be part of the conversation, and we will not dismiss Richardson or anyone else seeking to contribute to the discussion, nor will we print letters attacking others personally over this issue.

We harbor no illusions that there is any single solution that will prevent mass killings from ever happening again. It's quite possible that nothing could have prevented the shooting in Newtown, Conn.

But we do know that silence and resignation are the wrong response. And if there are solutions, even partial ones, they won't magically appear by themselves.

Let's start talking.


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